© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

30 Years Of Friendship, Through Fear And An Uncertain Future

Doug Neville (left) and Ryan Johnson have been friends for three decades. They met shortly before Neville found out he was HIV-positive.
Doug Neville (left) and Ryan Johnson have been friends for three decades. They met shortly before Neville found out he was HIV-positive.

StoryCorps' OutLoud initiative records stories from the LGBTQ community.

Doug Neville and Ryan Johnson met in 1986 — shortly before Neville was diagnosed as HIV-positive.

From grade school through college, Neville never really had a lot of friends. "I was frequently bullied," he tells Johnson during a StoryCorps interview in Chicago.

"And so I always thought, 'What's wrong with me?' And when we first started hanging out I remember thinking I, you know, wanted to be your friend," Neville tells Johnson. "And I knew how to get a man into bed, but I didn't know how to ask for a friendship."

Then Neville came close to dying.

"I knew I was sick," he says, "but it wasn't until I went to see my doctor, and he said, 'Have you talked to your mother?' That's when it hit me that it was that bad."

"There was a point where you — you'd stopped planning ahead," Johnson remembers.

"I really assumed that it was only a matter of time," Neville says. "And so I didn't live with any future in mind. I remember my 40th birthday and I'm thinking, 'I hit 40.' To me it was a monumental accomplishment."

"I don't know if you remember this but I was bitching about something and how I hated getting older, and you just very quietly said 'You know, I would give just about anything to live to 50,' " Johnson says.

"It made me realize that I didn't know what I was going to do if you died. I mean I'd seen lots of guys around me go, and these were people I knew and were close to, but they weren't my brother, I guess. So I celebrate the fact that you're alive."

Neville and Johnson have been friends for three decades — and Neville recently celebrated his 54th birthday.

Produced forWeekend Editionby Allison Davis.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Listener contributions are WESA’s largest source of income. Your support funds important journalism by WESA and NPR reporters. Please give now — a monthly gift of just $5 or $10 makes a difference.